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OCT 28, 2016

Communication Responsibility: What You Say May Not Be What Is Heard

By Enrique Velez
iStock photo/Varijanta

Enrique Alejandro Velez passed away on March 20, 2017. A treasured GLOBIS alumnus (2014 – 2016), he was an inspiration to his classmates and the greater GLOBIS community. This article is published as an expression of our deepest condolences. He will be missed.

Communication is an interplay of words in symphony with non-verbal cues that can be defined as the means of sending or receiving information. Sometimes, there is a gap between the messages people believe they have sent and what the other person actually has received. Marketing, for example, is believed to be the message the customer internalizes, rather than what the company is trying to say.

So who is responsible for smooth communication?

In workplaces and business schools, the responsibility for effective communication is often taken for granted, even though it is often the fundamental factor for success in project management, cross-cultural collaboration, and company transformation.

Why is communication overlooked? Why assume that a message would be received as it is intended? Let’s turn this around and promote shared responsibility.

Who can this apply to?

Paul Turner, in his book Organizational Communication: The Role of the HR Professional, notes that there are not enough formalized training budgets for improving internal communication. He suggests that corporations should outline responsibility in a process-based manner. However, companies don’t seem to be spending money on helping their staff become better communicators.

In my years in Japan as a corporate trainer, an employee in a mostly Japanese company, as a GLOBIS MBA student, and especially as a minority in a homogenous society; I have learned that there is an opportunity in offering proactive communication training to the general business population here in Japan. Let me identify three distinct segments:

1. Japanese that can speak English and have a high exposure to one or more foreign cultures (bi-cultural)

For this group, communication responsibility is a reinforcement of what they are already trying to do: act as global communicators. In order to be valued more highly than the average businessperson, all that is necessary is increased and repeated exposure to cross-cultural situations. Joining an international business school program or volunteering for a multi-national cause are some ways to do this outside of work.

For this group, communication responsibility is a reinforcement of what they are already trying to do: act as global communicators. In order to be valued more highly than the average businessperson, all that is necessary is increased and repeated exposure to cross-cultural situations. Joining an international business school program or volunteering for a multi-national cause are some ways to do this outside of work.

2. Non-Japanese that speak English, but are not from the West

For these individuals, communication responsibility training is at first a reminder that just knowing grammar or vocabulary words doesn’t make you an expert communicator. It involves give-and-take, rapport-building, and cross-cultural elements to step out of their own comfort zones.

3. Japanese that speak English well, but with little or no cultural exposure to outside cultural influences 

For these people, it can be difficult to go against learned formal communication structures in order to impart a new sense of communication responsibility. Luckily, though, there is a very short learning curve, since “language as a tool” is less of a factor. All that is needed is physical exposure to the cultural nuances of a more mindful and global give and take.

Responsible give-and-take

Here is a very simple paradigm shift to try, in addition to being more considerate of your audience and how well your message is received:

When someone says something to you, curb your enthusiasm to ask a follow-up question. Instead, comment first. Make any comment. Share any relevant or related information. Validate what you have heard by adding value to a speaker’s intended message. Comments show interested, active listening, and an eagerness to connect. They also make the speaker feel welcomed and respected. Follow-up questions and opinions can come after.

Even in a disagreement, there can be value, as learning from failure is the backbone of developing repetitive successes. This simple action will create a richer dialogue towards a better give and take.